BANGOR — In a public hearing late last week, the state Taxation Committee classified feminine hygiene items as paper products and unanimously defeated a bill to remove the sales tax on them. In private, a male representative told the bill’s female sponsor that the measure was “silly” and “embarrassing.”
“I was told by an important member of the committee that he thought it was a silly bill,” said legislation sponsor Rep. Christina Baker, D-Bangor. “I was told I would be embarrassed to bring this to the House floor. I think we’re a little further than that.”
The state Office of Fiscal and Policy Review estimated the state would collect $739,000 in sales tax on feminine hygiene products — such as tampons, pads, and panty liners — in fiscal year 2000-2001. Local governments during that time would collect about $40,000.
One reason the bill was defeated was the committee’s desire to rein in a volatile tax system that would create instability among state programs if the economy takes a downward turn, said Taxation Committee member Rep. Bonnie Green, D-Monmouth.
“We all know what happens when spending dries up,” she said.
Initially introduced in early April, the bill received the signatures of eight co-sponsors, six of whom are men and included Taxation Committee co-chair Sen. Richard Ruhlin, D-Brewer. At that time, Ruhlin said he believed the measure deserved consideration, but wanted the feminine hygiene products listed under a current tax-exemption classification. There are 79 sales-tax exemptions in state law.
The measure, which if passed would have gone into effect Oct. 1, also was supported by the Maine Women’s Lobby, the Family Planning Association of Maine and Planned Parenthood.
Baker said she is considering fighting for the bill on the floor of the House.
Classifying feminine hygiene items with paper products such as toilet paper, table napkins, plates and towels does not make sense, Baker said. “The use of toilet paper doesn’t discriminate among people,” she said, noting that women are unfairly required to pay more in sales tax because of an “innate, biological function” that men do not experience.
“There’s a reason menstruation’s been thought of as a curse,” Baker said. “It can be a very taxing condition. I don’t think women should be further taxed.”
Taxation Committee co-chair Rep. Ken Gagnon, D-Waterville, said Monday that feminine hygiene items are paper products. If feminine hygiene products are exempt, other groups soon could ask that all paper products not be taxed.
“It would open up that whole area of paper products,” Gagnon said.
Gagnon denied that the committee’s unanimous disapproval of the bill was to avoid an open discussion on feminine hygiene products, but added, “clearly there are some people who are uncomfortable with this issue.”
Green said it’s true that her peers can get uncomfortable. “Saying the word bra they get embarrassed,” she said. “The level of discomfort is there. I’m uncomfortable talking about prophylactics. But we’ve dealt with things that have been uncomfortable before.”